My purpose in these posts is to bring a variety of Christian and other writers in a desire to share significant writings that in my estimation contribute to the common good and directly or indirectly give glory to God and extend the Lord's work of salvation to all of humanity. G.S.
It is a good thing and also just that since the civil rights movements in the U.S.A. in the mid-twentieth century other situations of unjust discrimination and twisted relations biased by various forms of prejudice have been brought into the public forum for discussion and remedial action. In the course of various public initiatives to correct unjust treatment of human persons by other individuals, organization, or agencies, much public attention has been drawn to the sufferings of individuals and groups. Our eyes and ears have been flooded with images, sounds, and messages which have tried to raise a positive profile for those deemed to have suffered from prejudice and persecution. That is all to the good.
In many ways, an in large part thanks to the contribution of Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, we now have a wonderful body of literature which brings into the public domain all the beauty, meaning, purpose, and power of human sexuality under the identifier of "Theology of the Body" which we owe to Saint Pope John Paul II, Karol Wojtyla. Young people from many and no religious traditions are being drawn to many variations on this theme currently drawing more and more attention. That is all to the good.
However, our society has also produced a culture which tends to give such emphasis to sexual expression that we cannot blame children and youth who acquire the impression that all roads, all situations, and all circumstances must necessarily lead to sexual expression; otherwise they will never be able to live a fully actualized existence or know happiness or fulfillment. This is not reality, and the current situation could not be farther from the truth.
Not every human relation or attraction need become sexual. In fact, the wide gamut of human literature is replete with themes indicating any number of ways human beings inevitably suffer when the life is improperly or inopportunely sexualized. Sex is a little bit like sugar. Most of the time it is best left unused, allowing each food item to manifest its own natural flavor, but when you add sugar, it is likely that each food's natural flavor will be camouflaged and lost. While sugar is pleasant and does bring pleasure, it tends to override all other flavors, as if all other flavors were forbidden.
In that sense, sex is like a bully. A bully suffers from insecurity in his or her sense of identity and is afraid that, upon entering into relations with others, they will discover the bully's inadequacies and faults and reject him or her. The bully's fear of rejection is so great that he or she adopts a policy of defense by aggression, in a desperate bid to preclude rejection through violent intimidation. Bullies tend to be loud and pushy, taking over and then dominating any situation; as though in their presence no one has any right to exist, or be seen or heard, because everyone else is a potential threat.
Human sexuality is indeed a beautiful, wondrous, and powerful dimension of our being, which is all the more reason for it to be surrounded with safeguards. The Creator designed human beings in two distinct but related genders; so that in relating to each other they might come to experience their complementarity and, under the right circumstances, they might come together in marriage and - bearing and raising children - they might build a family. Within this context the full depth of beauty and meaning of human sexuality can be deployed and developed in the service of their mutual love and service, and the power of their mutual gift in sexual union unfolds in a healthy manner at the service of their union and loving service.
No other situation contains all the safeguards to be found in the marriage of one man and one woman; so that the recourse to human sexual expression in all other situations tends to draw attention to itself rather than to the other. Human sexual pleasure qualifies as an intoxicant, and human history clearly shows that people can easily become addicted to and obsessed with sexual pleasure as much as with any alcohol, drug, or other stimulant.
It is normal that children and youth - who are in the difficult and lengthy process of developing their sense of identity as human beings - it is normal I say for children and youth to be drawn or attracted to others - to individuals of both genders - because what is happening is not sexual at all. Rather, they are being drawn and attracted to particular qualities and traits in other people either because they sense they don't have that quality and want it, or don't have it enough and want more, or think they don't have it or that it is insufficiently developed and they want more of it.
By associating in simple human ways and on simple human terms with others whose qualities we emulate, by the mere association and relationship, we slowly or more rapidly acquire for ourselves something of those qualities and traits. It is as though we graft onto ourselves something of the other that we so admire and desire. It would not only be a mistake to prematurely sexualize such relations, but it would be counter productive and it would all too often short circuit the normal human processes of personality and character development.
Take for example a child or youth who loves the color red. That is all to the good, but it would be ridiculous, infantile, and probably violent for that young individual to go around spraying red paint on every stone, plant, animal, and any other object; as if no other color could be allowed to continue to exist. Red, like every other color, is fine whenever and wherever it naturally occurs, and in harmony with all the other colors.
In like manner, all the sensations and pleasure associated with human sexuality are right and good in their proper context, and provided they don't obstruct or short circuit, or overwhelm any of the many other dimensions of human being, identity, living, and experience.
Many cultures over the millennia of human history have developed rites of passage from childhood or adolescence to adulthood. Most if not all of these rites of passage tend to orient human sexuality towards marriage and family life not only for the perpetuation of the species but also for the good of the individual, of the family, and of the greater clan or tribe or nation.
Any other uses of human sexuality tend to draw attention to sexual pleasure for its own sake by drawing attention away from marriage, family, and the sense of common purpose and meaning in the mutual love, service, and caring inherent in any society. When people stop opening themselves up to the service of the common good, they tend to want to draw all things and all people to themselves, and such movements tend to incite divisions, wars, exploitation, conquest, misery, and death.
If human sexual pleasure could actually satisfy the human being - body, mind, heart, psyche, and spirit / soul - then we could understand giving oneself over to it, but there is overwhelming evidence that human sexual pleasure is at best ephemeral, and because it is so fleeting, no amount of it can ever satisfy. On the contrary, the only way human sexual pleasure can truly satisfy is by employing it the way it was meant to be employed in accord with the design inscribed into our DNA by the Creator.
Human sexual pleasure is intended to draw us away from ourselves towards the other, and upon arriving at the other, to lay our life down in loving service to the other. This mutual self-giving is most eloquent, most complete, most powerful, and most fertile between one man and one woman, because between them, they have all they need to build a life together, to create new life, and to achieve their ultimate purpose and meaning.
A married man and woman practice chastity be reserving the gift of their human sexuality for each other, the man primarily by forgetting himself in the giving of pleasure to his wife as he seeks only to delight in her pleasuring, and the woman primarily by accepting to be cherished only by her husband in the receiving of pleasure from his sustained attention to her, associating her pleasure with his giving of himself to her in such a selfless way on his part.
Celibate men - either religious or priests as in the Roman and Eastern Catholic Christian traditions, but also in other Christian traditions such as in the Orthodox churches - as well as celibate women deprive their human sexual attractions and drives of their attention by simply choosing to refocus their attention and energies to the practice of loving service to others and to God in accord with their proper vocation or chosen way of life. Celibates are freed from the intoxicating powers of their human sexuality, for the most part, and enjoy the freedom to apply all this energy to the other dimensions of their human living and existence.
As in the case of people who refrain from the consuming of refined sugars, celibates develop far more refined capacities to enjoy the subtle differences in the natural flavors of the wide range of human experiencing and living.
Children and youth should be protected in their innocence and allowed all the time they need to develop more fully the wide range of human living, experiences, and relating without the overbearing influence of human sexual expression and hormones attendant on all things sexual. They will be better equipped to understand their human sexuality upon having first developed more fully their human personality and character, freely and without the "polluting effects" of premature sexual expression. Let's put the "bully" of sex away and allow "everyone else in the room" freedom to live and breathe and develop fully.
© 2004-2021 All rights reserved Fr. Gilles Surprenant, Associate Priest of Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montreal QC
© 2004-2021 Tous droits réservés Abbé Gilles Surprenant, Prêtre Associé de Madonna House Apostolate & Poustinik, Montréal QC
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